The cartoon is increasingly becoming an educational tool. It is used extensively at School Certificate and University Entrance level in New Zealand secondary schools to not only communicate ideas, but also to analyse how those ideas are translated to the reader. For this study I have concentrated on the use of the editorial cartoon for the fifth form English syllabus and, in particular, the interpretation of the static image in the School Certificate examination. My research design is based on a similar study by Dr LeRoy Carl which he completed at Syracuse University's School of Journalism, and entitled Meanings Evoked in Population Groups by Editorial Cartoons.
CARL, LeRoy M. (1968) Editorial Cartoons Fail to Reach Many Readers, Journalism Quarterly 45, pp 533-535 Dr Carl's research concluded that very few readers of the cartoon actually understood the intended message. His study best sums up the problem of people misinterpreting the cartoon and its importance to this area of educational research. Dr Carl's 600 page thesis concludes that many forces are at work within individuals' scrambling of the messages, which may not always be clearly sent by the cartoonists in the first place. The assumption has been made by many that editorial cartoons are easy to understand - easier than the written word. Some of the cartoonists quoted in Carl's study have indicated complete unawareness of the communication barriers between them and their public. The interpretation of the cartoons used in the School Certificate examination and the resulting mark allocation are based on the Chief Examiner's decoding, (he also sets the questions). He and his panel do not contact the cartoonist for his or her intended meaning. Therefore the basis for assessment may be found on false grounds. Considering Dr Carl's study, it seems that misinterpretation of the cartoonist's intentions is a high possibility. It would appear to me to be more appropriate to use the cartoonists' intended message as a basis for assessing the School Certificate paper, rather than the interpretation of non-related people. With this in mind, I have selected four editorial cartoons-each with a different style and context. Four fifth form classes at James Hargest High School in Invercargill were also selected as my sample group, which comprised of two high band groups and two low band groups (based on academic achievement). One high band and one low band group were given a general lesson in cartoon cognition including ways of dissecting the cartoon in order to decode it. I used the bombing of the "Rainbow Warrior" in Auckland Harbour as a focus and then visually demonstrated how a number of New Zealand cartoonists interpreted that 1985 event. A questionnaire was then completed by all four classes on each of the four cartoons and the answers were compared with those supplied by the cartoonists themselves. My initial tentative theory was partly based on Dr Carl's conclusions to his study and partly on my own personal experience as a cartoonist. A number of variables occur when a reader decodes a cartoon and, therefore, is subject to misinterpretation depending upon those variables. Apart from one student scoring a possible five on one of the cartoons, noone was in complete agreement with any of the cartoonists' intended messages. As expected, students in the higher academic groups were able to interpret the cartoonists' intended messages better than those students from the lower academic groups. A large percentage of the high band students were in partial agreement with the intended message. By comparison, the greater percentage of low band students were in complete disagreement with the cartoonists' intentions. These generalisations are applicable to three out of the four cartoons, with only Trace Hodgson's (Cartoon #3) image being the exception. In all four sample groups, very few students achieved a high score, and the larger percentage of all scores was two or below